TWENTY-ONE.

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(it's 2 am but!! happy holidays to all who celebrate! hope everyone who took finals isn't still suffering! this is a long one

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(it's 2 am but!! happy holidays to all who celebrate! hope everyone who took finals isn't still suffering! this is a long one. like 7000+ words long. they keep getting longer. i don't know what's wrong with me. and you already know i haven't edited this yet. i'm lazy but u can't tell at me bc it's christmas. love u all tons and hope u enjoy! -mags)

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SINCE MARLEY HAD met Jess, she'd changed in ways that she couldn't have ever imagined. However, there were still a lot of things about her that stayed the same. One of those things was her dislike for surprises.

Marley liked to know things. She didn't like things sneaking up on her and she certainly hated being out of the loop. The only surprise she could pleasantly recall within the last couple of years was when Jess showed up on her porch with a pizza, but she honestly didn't even consider that a surprise. That was a gift.

So, when the day of the Truncheon Books Open House arrived and brought a boatload of surprises with it, Marley felt a little bit out of her element.

The first surprise of the day came around noon. Her father had finally worked up the balls to call her a month after Jacob had given him her number. Marley was alone when she received the call and she considered it both a blessing and a curse. Jess wasn't there to verbally fight her father over the phone, but on the other hand, Jess also wasn't there to encourage Marley to tell him off.

Despite how well their talk went after the first ten minutes of awkward, cold conversation, Marley had been kicking herself all day for being too much of a coward to tell her father how she felt. She didn't know what it was. She'd spent her entire life planning what she was going to say to him when she finally had the opportunity to speak to him. But as soon as she heard his voice say her name, she'd gone completely blank. She had been frozen, almost unbearably so.

She hadn't let him off the hook, per se, but she hadn't given him what he deserved. And she wasn't sure if she'd ever forgive herself for that.

However, when all was said and done, Marley Acosta had had a reasonably civil and adult conversation with her father of which ended in her agreeing to go to his company's party with Jacob at the end of May. Her hands shook against her legs when she had done so, finally realizing that that meant she'd have to see him and his new family in person.

She'd called Jess in a panic after she'd hung up the phone. Despite his own worries and stresses that this day held, he was at Marley's apartment in less than an hour, apple cinnamon scones from their favorite coffee shop in hand.

Another surprise was Jess himself. He was eerily calm about the whole day. Marley had been expecting a Luke Danes level freak out at some point, but Jess had yet to crack. She'd asked him while they were setting up for the Open House if Christopher had slipped him a Xanax at some point in time today, to which she earned an eye roll and an order to set up the coffee cups on the table.

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